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By Brenda Herchmer, Principal Collaborator

As the result of years of experiencing collaborative learning alongside brilliant colleagues, working long  hours, and dipping into hard-earned savings, the Campus for Communities is now up and running.

While we should be proud, reality is that we often stumble whenever we talk or even write about the initiative. Those mixed emotions are the result of the push and pull between wanting to make a difference, and needing to be entrepreneurial in order to make it happen.

The truth for me is that my personal and very eclectic journey has always been much more about social innovation and wanting to make the world a better place than it has been about making money.

The trouble is that the Campus is a big dream that needs to incorporate elements of both the business and the community sectors, and, each of those has a very different measuring stick for success.

Typically the business sector measures success in terms of economic impact, whereas for nonprofits and charities, success is about being able to successfully address social issues. In other words we’re stacking up money versus humanity and compassion. Of course, we need both. And yet, we seem to separate the two with a very clear dividing line. For us that has created the challenge of not being able to find an infrastructure that addresses the need for both economic impact and social innovation.

What do we need that kind of infrastructure for?

After many years of working in both government and nonprofit settings, my work and that of my colleagues has resulted in two profound learnings….communities get stronger when their leaders do.

Additionally, local leadership is stronger, more relevant, and responsive when business, government, and the social profit sector work together for collective impact and comprehensive community transformation.

Those two simple yet extraordinarily complex concepts clearly pointed to the need for a new kind of community leadership—not what we think of as traditional “command and control” leadership but one that is instead focused on the system-thinking needed for transformative change grounded in collaboration, community building, and ultimately the responsive and nimble networks, webs, and meshwork required for both social and economic development.

And that is what led to building the Campus for Communities of the Future—an online collaborative space where local leaders can connect to share real world community building experiences, how-to’s, and programs designed to inspire transformative and lasting change.

While most are able to wrap their heads around the need to invest in the development of local leaders and local community capacity, the fundamentals weren't always clear.

Is the Campus a business, a non-profit, a cooperative, a social enterprise?

For now, it is best defined as a social enterprise. Truth be told, we weren't and are still aren't totally clear but continue to work collaboratively with others to figure that out.

In most ways, it really is non-profit but, as Dan Pallotta pointed out in a recent and brilliant TED Talk called, “The way we think about charity is dead wrong”, being a charity comes with its own set of challenges.

Pallotta summarizes five integral disadvantages faced by non-profits this way, “...you can’t use money to lure talent away from the business or for-profit sector, you can’t advertise on anywhere near the scale the for-profit sector does for new customers, you can’t take the kinds of risks in pursuit of those customers that the for-profit sector takes, you don’t have the same amount of time to find them as the for-profit sector, and you don’t have a stock market with which to fund any of this…”

No surprise then that we’ve resisted the Campus being classified as a non profit. But, on the other hand, it’s not really a business even though we’ve had to apply everything we have ever learned about running a business.

Regardless, we will continue to work collaboratively with our many wise cohorts, and we’ll figure this out together as a work-in-progress. Of course our door is also open to potential partners and collaborators.

We do know that what we're trying to put into place is a large scale dream that is the result of real boots-on-the-ground learnings with many communities and local leaders across Canada and now beyond—a combination of the best of both grassroots and grasstops learnings. As such we believe it has the potential to play a significant role in shaping and changing communities who believe they can and should do better.
 

Please join us on the journey by exploring and becoming part of the Campus for Communities. Keeping in mind that it is very much a work-in-progress, your feedback would be valued and appreciated at bherchmer@campusforcommunities.ca.